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Flash Journal, 2-23: Degrees of Separation
Chaplins go Parsons-esque; Forsythe Fails in Iraq

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2007 The Dance Insider

PARIS -- You might think that a piece in which a puppet who's a ringer for Momix founder Moses Pendleton accosts Charlie Chaplin's (real) granddaughter would be rife with dramatic potential. And indeed this particular vignette from "L'Oratorio d'Aurélia," which opened last night at the Theatre aux Abbesses, works, ending with the tiny puppet seemingly hauling the collapsed Aurélia Thierrée offstage. And it is not the only moment in which puppets, props, and illusion are used effectively in the show, created by Victoria Thierrée Chaplin, Charlie's daughter, with Aurélia, her daughter. (The mother directed.) I liked a segment in which Aurélia's real head takes the (puppet) stage, performing to an audience of real puppets, who even clap; was haunted by a penultimate moment in which her life literally seems to sift out of her corset into sand; and was stumped by how she turned her stomach into a see-through model train tunnel at the finish. But overall, the cameo by the Moses marionette -- not to mention the spastic choreography by Jaime Martinez, a veteran of the Momix-light David Parsons company -- only served to suggest that this is one show that could have used the Moses touch for editing and timing.

Momix (and to a lesser extent Pilobolus, which Pendleton co-founded, but which depends less on illusion) makes its dance-theater magic principally with two ingredients: Invention and timing. (Fierce athlete/dancers also help.) The classic sketch "E.C." -- basically a shadow play playing on the film "E.T." -- is funny not because there's any real mystery to how it works, nor because it's all that original, but because the timing is exquisite and the delivery droll. The Chaplins' 'Oratorio,' offering less invention than Momix at its best, is left to rely much of the time on tired sight and/or prop gags: a duet in which a man and woman share one pair of pants; another in which a man wrestles with a possessed suit; a scene in which the heroine disappears into a painting -- similar to a device previously used by Thierrée's brother James; an opening tableau in which a woman's head and various limbs seem impossibly to pop out from disparate drawers. We have even seen some of these props before, as when Thierrée trails a very long red train (the wedding kind) supporting a miniature group of cows, a farm-house, and a light-house; thank you, Dan Hurlin!

With spot-on comic timing, even these old tricks can work. Here, while Thierrée's intermittent charisma and a certain sense of wonder carry the day some of the time, the gags mostly fall flat. This, together with the tepid choreography and its one-dimensional interpretation (by Julio Monge, replacing Martinez) end up eviscerating a creation that begins with a promising if not entirely original dramatic premise: a dream, perhaps a nightmare, probably involving a woman trying to avoid a man and/or re-claim her own space, ultimately taking off on her own voyage (a train whistle is tooted).


War Crimes & Misdemeanors

Before you throw your good money after bad agitprop so-called dance watered down with hackneyed amateur theatrics, I wanted to remind you of my Flash of the Paris premiere of William Forsythe's "Three Atmospheric Studies," which opened last night in Northern California and comes soon to New York. To read the review, "Sophomoric 'Studies' of War from William Forsythe," click here. As for Diane Solway's puff piece in last weekend's New York Times, I'd like to cite it as People's Exhibit number one for why previews uninformed by critical perspective are more often than not a disservice to the ticket-buying public. Perhaps Ms. Solway should stick to biographies until she learns how to become a critic.

 

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